Staying Negative aims to emotionally engage, inspire and facilitate imagination in sexual health practices. The campaign profiles the real life stories of gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men (MSM). Men talk about all aspects of their life from coming out, relationships, sexuality and a broad range of other topics. While HIV and safe sex is an important part of all stories, it is not the exclusive focus.
Prior HIV prevention campaigns have traditionally focused on providing gay men with information that will encourage them to adopt safe sex behaviours. In reality, safe sex practices are influenced by a whole range of environmental and cultural factors. The campaign also provides an opportunity for HIV positive men to talk about their lives and discuss how their strategies to staying HIV negative were not successful. We understand that there is more than one way practice safe sex and adopt healthcare seeking behaviours, so let's be creative about it!
There are no real criteria for participants other than that they are MSM and happy to have their stories appear as part of the campaign. In addition to the personal stories, the website provides information on HIV/AIDS, sexual health, relationships and broad of the other relevant topics including domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and depression.
Back to top
As a white, ostensibly straight boy, raised under the national party in Queensland, I think I had a very privileged childhood. I was raised in a way that was meant to prepare me to be a leader or in control of society somehow.
Me as a toddler.
It wasn’t until about 14 or 15 years old when I had those sexual feelings that made me feel like I was gay, which is actually quite late! I first came out as bisexual to a few close friends but when I was about 16, I came out completely at high school. I was probably one of the first ones to ever do so at that school in Southeast Queensland in 1995. I actually came out in a legal studies class – a friend was doing a presentation on LGBT people seeking law reform and she interviewed me in front of the whole class as a gay man. It raised a lot of eyebrows at school and I was teased quite a lot.
Me at 16 years old.
I was getting homophobically bullied before I officially came out but after it was confirmed the bullying got worse.
I got a taste of stigma and discrimination in the last few years of high school and that really hurt me, causing some psychological trauma that I’m only becoming aware of now.
When I started going to University, I put myself out there and got involved with several gay groups. When I was 20, I moved to Sydney where I started work at the Capital Q Newspaper and lived a really intense gay lifestyle. I even worked as an escort to earn some extra money.
Back to top
I remember back in May 1999, a client I had took me to his place which was really nice. In the house he led me to his play room which was absolute luxury. It had an amazing interior, including showers, sex slings and surround sound – it was really deluxe.
I was taken to the play room with the guys who owned the house and a few others I had just met.
Then they just held my arm down and injected me with something very quickly. I didn’t know what was happening and they didn’t even tell me what it was.
Suddenly I felt this really intense rush, everything went golden and all the hairs on my head and neck all stood on end. I felt this intensely deep, pleasurable feeling. That was my first experience with crystal meth. None of my other friends really knew what crystal meth was.
I wasn’t angry with them, even though they broke a number of laws doing that to me. I wasn’t angry because that visceral pleasurable feeling just felt so good! Even though I was flaccid, most of the time I would spontaneously ejaculate about 30 seconds after being injected. Ejaculate would still come out of my penis and it felt really good. We engaged in adventurous sex including fisting and there was a little bit of blood but because I was so disinhibited by just injecting crystal meth, I didn’t really worry about it. It just makes you a really hungry bottom, so you minimise any problems that are happening. There was a little bit of concern amongst them but I said, “don’t worry about it, just keep going.”
I think we went for a couple hours and the blood didn’t seem to get too bad. It was just a little bit pink and I figured that if it was clearly really bad, then I would have stopped. After that, I went to a dance party with some different friends. I went to the bathroom there and a lot of red flowing blood started to come out.
I took myself straight to the emergency department in St. Vincent’s with a friend and full of confidence, went up to the reception and told them exactly what happened. I injected crystal meth, got fisted and now there was a load of blood coming out.
They admitted me straight away.
Luckily the bleeding stopped when I was lying in bed and the hospital staff just waited to see what happened. Bleeding stops a lot of the time and I think they were hoping for that. If it didn’t stop bleeding they would have had to operate but I have a feeling they wouldn’t have known what to do anyway as it was back in 1999. Luckily it did stop.
That was my first experience with crystal meth.
Back to top
I’m pretty sure those guys from the luxury play room were some of the first to do it because this was back in the day and a lot of my friends didn’t even know what meth was. These guys would have fisting parties and inject crystal meth all night for 12, sometimes 24 hours. During that time I was getting involved pretty infrequently, maybe three times a year or so.
After I finished my second Uni degree a fair bit later, I started hanging around gay clubs and they were all smoking crystal meth. I realised people were buying these glass pipes and smoking it.
It was a little bit of a rush but nowhere near as good as injecting it.
I remember thinking to myself, ‘what a waste of money, these guys have no idea! It just doesn’t hit the spot the same way if you smoke it.’ You just smoked it more and more and waited for something to happen and it didn’t feel that satisfying. I think smoking it was easier because you can just have a little to pick yourself up. There is no barrier to using it like injecting. You could have used it to just get some energy instead of partying hard.
In 2008 and 2009, I guess you could say I was at my worst; I was on it every weekend, sometimes every other weekend. It was mostly a mixture of smoking and injecting but I never used it every day or anything. Usually, by Sunday night or early Monday morning I just didn’t want to use anymore. I would take a Xanax to fall asleep and by the time I woke up on Tuesday I did not want to use anymore. It wasn’t a shameful thing, I was just so tired and there was no more desire after the weekend.
I knew some people that would use every morning throughout the week to go to work and take sleeping pills at night to fall asleep. I would never use to go to work but at the time I wasn’t really working. I had several months without working. At one point, when I was working in advertising sales, after a big weekend, it would be so hard to think clearly.
Not so much on the Monday as I think it’s still in your system, but Tuesday, Wednesday and even Thursday would be so difficult. Sometimes you can’t think of words or put them together or think clearly at all. It takes a long time to do anything, you don’t have any energy – a deep, deep lack of energy. You’re just exhausted and weak to the core, to the bone.
Back to top
I guess you could say it got pretty bad and in 2008 my brother moved to Sydney to help me. They gave me a room and I was trying to work to pay rent but I was still using. They told me that they were there to help me and I could be there for a couple of years if that’s what it took but after two months they kicked me out, effectively. I experienced that as rejection and a lack of compassion which made everything worse. Those few years were such a tumultuous time for me. I moved nearly ten times within three or so years and it was so unstable.
It felt like nobody was there for me and that nobody wanted to talk to me or connect with me or try to understand me. Nobody would talk to me about my feelings and that compassion - that is what I was missing.
Then in 2009, I ended up in this house in Redfern and I contracted HIV.Later that year, I got a job that I hoped would really give me stability and earn good money but they ended up dismissing me after two months. I feel I was doing a very good job in terms of sales but the dismissal was probably related to prickly behaviour when coming down from crystal meth.
After the dismissal, I was so shocked and just brought to tears in a foetal position in my bedroom. I very strongly wanted my housemate or even anyone to walk into the room and just bear witness to see where I was at.
I wanted someone to reach out and help me and no one did, of course. I ended crying and crying until I exhausted myself and fell asleep.
My whole life I was a high achiever, throughout school and even after getting my degree I was told I was so clever and there were such high expectations of me. I had fallen down to a point I couldn’t even get help for myself because I felt I didn’t deserve it.
If I had to pin it down to one moment, I think that was the darkest moment I’ve ever felt.
There’s usually always that feeling that you’re not quite at rock bottom and you can get out of it, but at that point I had absolutely no hope left and it was a very scary moment.
It was all a repeat again of the same thing. Feeling such rejection was so painful, and feeling completely unsupported and unloved by anyone led me to use crystal meth more and more. Even condoms went out the window because I just didn’t care anymore.A psychologist suggested much later that I was probably experiencing Adjustment Disorder in the months after the dismissal.
Back to top
People who have never been through it and don’t understand the experience think they are maybe trying to help, but instead, they blame someone who’s recovering or in the midst of using crystal meth for seeming to be lazy or not wanting to do anything and they put them down for it. The thing is, is they just can’t. I think people see them as being indulgent, taking the drugs. They don’t understand how it makes them so physically exhausted with just no energy. You feel really weak and you can’t even pick up heavy things.
They think the person is being difficult or lazy. They can often shame them or put them down and make them feel like they’re not helpful or no good.
The person using can feel so unlovable and not good enough, reinforcing a negative complex and causing a deep psychological wound.
The people trying to ‘help’ can make the pain they’re trying to escape through drug use much worse.
Individuals in that situation need compassion and they need people to stop telling them that there’s something wrong with them. They need to feel that they are valued and that they have worth so they can start changing those negative self-beliefs into positive ones. Slowly, over time, if that’s reinforced enough, then people will heal and minimise or stop using.
The first time I got any help was when a friend booked me into a pilot program specifically around crystal meth. He booked the appointment for me, dropped me off at the front door – everything. The therapist was lovely – very non-judgemental and compassionate. It was great, but it wasn’t enough.
She did advise me to go to group therapy and I realise now that I should have done it, but the thought of baring my soul in front of other people was terrifying to me.
I never went to any of the groups because I had a lot of fear around group therapy but I know now that it really is in those settings that you can taste compassion which in my opinion is what breaks the negative cycle.
Back to top
A few years after the worst period, I moved to Brisbane and it wasn’t until May 2010 that I was diagnosed with HIV.I was getting routine test but I’m pretty sure I caught it about six months earlier. I was on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications for a few years. Not long after my diagnosis, I fell into a deep depression and I didn’t want to get help. I was on my first set of HIV medications including Efavirenz and in some people it has depressive side-effects. I was just one of the unlucky ones and it triggered severe depression.
I was panicking all the time, I had no confidence and was bed-ridden. It made me really aware of what severe depression was. I could measure that I had mild depression before and the awareness of that, as well as the fact that the Efavirenz had triggered such a severe depression made me realised that I hadn’t been really in touch with my feelings all of my life. I was numbing everything with drugs such as Xanax. I took it every day and if I had a bit of a rough few days I would take more.
I saw the counsellors at the AIDS medical unit for a while and that was helpful because they told me about how to manage my urges. I did use crystal meth whilst I was in Brisbane a little, maybe once a month or once every two months. My cousin was also studying Reiki at the time and she did some energy healings on me. I dabbled in a lot of different therapies during that time.
I decided to go to a gay yoga group and that’s where I met a core energetics body psychotherapist. That was what really started to change things. Through him, I experienced real connection and wholehearted compassion. He connected me to groups of gay men and radical faeries that helped heal me through group therapy.
I can’t explain how impactful and deep this therapy was. In the very beginning I had to be dragged there, kicking and screaming because I was afraid of facing my issues, but I felt so much better even after the very first session.
I was very lucky to be in this core energetics group of only gay men and I got to go to it every three weeks or so on a Sunday afternoon. We did activities which helped us release the anger and the dark stuff, deep in your psyche. The body psychotherapist would have us yell and scream and hit big stuffed cubes with bats. It was a way of just letting go and it helped process a lot of pain for me from much earlier bullying and shaming. The pain that I now realise I was using drugs like crystal meth and Xanax to escape. It was the first time in my life that I felt all of me was really wholeheartedly accepted by a group of people and the group continued for a couple of years.
I had to continually tell myself that I was worthwhile and lovable. I didn’t have to prove anything and I surrounded myself with compassion from other people. I was very conscious of cutting out of my life people out who kept putting me down, even though they were probably not conscious of it and meant well.
The worst thing someone could do who is struggling with addiction is to isolate themselves.
Back to top
Looking back, I had a lot of fun with crystal meth. I wasn’t consciously depressed or unhappy but I was very disconnected from people and I wasn’t in touch with my feelings. Feeling stigmatised and not good enough as a result of being gay added to feeling isolated. Moving to Sydney, away from my family made me feel even more disconnected and I had a deep belief that nobody really cared about me. It wasn’t a conscious belief, at the time it felt like nobody would care about what I did so I’d just do it anyway. It was fun at the time but it eventually caused a lot of problems.
It’s just a substance and I understand it so well now. I have a very good understanding of what drives addiction and it’s similar to all the other addictions like alcohol, opiates, benzodiazepines – they are trying to escape themselves and not face the shadow of their feelings. It’s like a band-aid or a distraction and doesn’t heal the deep issues. Reading about psychology and understanding the complexes in your psyche and how they're formed is really helpful. Understanding the messages that were instilled in you from your family, school or culture is important. Just by being aware of them makes you less controlled by them.
If crystal meth comes up now, I’m not afraid of it anymore because I know it won’t be a problem. I never seek it out but if I come across it like during Mardi Gras time or something, I’ll have a little puff but that’s it.
I don’t feel the need to use anymore because I have learnt to love myself now.
If you’re struggling with addiction, you need to surround yourself with people who are wholeheartedly supportive and compassionate. You need to be committed to be in it for the long haul, you won’t be cured overnight. Addiction is the manifestation of deeper depression, anxiety or pain so you need to start there in order to heal. It is a slow healing process that takes a long time. Those wounds run much deeper and are much harder to heal than any sort of physical wound.
If you go through the process that I have been through and you really heal those deep seated issues, then there isn’t that urge to use because there is less pain you need to escape and if you do use crystal meth occasionally then it’s just for fun.
For more stories that explore meth use amongst gay, bisexual and trans men, visit Touchbase Stories.
For more information on drugs and alcohol, how they work, how to stay safe, what happens when you mix your drugs, how they interact with your meds or hormones, or how they could affect your mental health, visit Touchbase.org.au